03/10/2022 General News
Whilst it is true that periods in the past come in and out of fashion in the saleroom, one era has never really fallen out of favour: the pre-war years of the 20th century. Art Deco has always been popular in the saleroom, but recent years have seen a surge in interest in the earlier Arts & Crafts movement, whether it’s furniture, pictures, decorative items or jewellery.
The three terms Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco are often – mistakenly - used interchangeably. They were in fact three distinct, and very different, movements, rooted in the social and political situations of the time – let’s not forget that this was a period of immense upheaval and change.
Towards the end of the 19th century, which had seen Britain and Europe transformed from a largely rural and agricultural society to a modern, industrial one, there was a backlash against the opulence and industrialism of the Victorian era, and out of this came the Arts & Crafts movement.
Design from this era features simplicity, quality craftsmanship, and a return to nature, with shapes and designs inspired by flora in particular. Arts & Crafts leaders such as William Morris and John Ruskin believed in the artisan rather than the industrial.
When it came to jewellery, Arts & Crafts was all about the craftsmanship and the design rather than the inherent value of the materials. Expensive stones and metals were rejected in favour of semi-precious stones (such as moonstones, amethysts and opals), silver (rather than gold), and enamel.
Designs imitated nature, with sinuous, flowing motifs. There were irregular shapes rather than symmetrical conformity, and plain rather than elaborate settings.
Designers such as Archibald Knox (who made many pieces for the archetypal Arts & Crafts store Liberty & Co), Sybil Dunlop, Bernard Instone and Charles Robert Ashbee all took advantage of the dawning of the era of mass media to become famous for their jewellery – and they remain very much in demand in the saleroom today.
Arts & Crafts jewellery appeals to the modern eye because of its simplicity and lack of ‘bling’, and because it is so different from anything which is being made today.
Many of the pieces are extremely well-made; that said, there is not a lot of jewellery from this era around, because materials such as enamel were easily damaged – so condition is very important to today’s buyers.
Makers such as Archibald Know didn’t always sign their pieces, relying instead on catalogue numbers. This means that identifying genuine pieces can be tricky, and it is always advisable to buy from a reputable dealer or auction house which has a jewellery specialist – sadly there are some modern fakes around.
But find the right piece, and you will not only be bang on the Arts & Crafts trend, but you will own very wearable jewellery which has really stood the test of time.